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A Counterintelligence Challenge: The Enigmas and Benefits of Defectors

scratched and peeling painted soviet flagIWP 676
Four credits

Defection is probably as old as Moses, but defectors have often done so not to seek, but to deliver.   The history of modern defections begins with that of Boris Bazhanov in 1928 and has continued up to the notorious case of Curve Ball.   Throughout this era, defectors have provided history-making claims, from the secret purposes of Stalin’s foreign policy in the 1930s, through the Soviet role in the Kennedy assassination, to the instigation of the Iraq war.  At the same time, defectors have been the principal source of leads to the spies of our adversaries.  The scope of their reporting ranges from foreign policy and military affairs to intelligence services, activities, and capabilities.

Some aspects of defections are perennial, such as the variety of motivations propelling the defector to act in the first place.  But some aspects have clearly evolved since Bazhanov, particularly in the effectiveness of host intelligence services, but also in the sophistication of defectors in approaching this life-changing decision.  Early history is important in bringing to the foreground that which we take for granted today.  It is also a useful yardstick by which we can compare deficiencies in current practices with the standards that an evolving knowledge and wisdom should have taught us.

Defections from the Soviet Union will dominate the discussions in this class because of the robust body of evidence and experience they provide, but also because it will facilitate the exploration of a deeply Byzantine cast of mind that expands our understanding of the enigmas and difficulties that plague the typical defection case.

Defector cases are characterized by their “strategic” dimension in the nature of the intelligence they provide and by their “tactical” dimension in personal handling challenges they present to the host service handling the defector.  The extent to which a defection is “successful” has depended on the success of the defection act itself, the capabilities of the defector as a reporter of fact, the importance of those facts, the reliability of the reporter, and the capabilities of the host intelligence service to exploit, validate, and resettle the defector.

This course will explore the evolution of “success” and its ingredients, but the most important ingredient is the quality of the human mind as it approaches either the defection decision or the exploitation effort.   For this reason, the class will emphasize a Socratic method of teaching wherein question and answer between teacher and student and between students will dominate over any lecture format.